Dear Helaine and Joe:
Can you tell me anything about the history of this piece? It used to be in my mother-in-law’s house, but she gave it to my husband and me for safekeeping. How valuable and unique is it?
This is a spinning wheel that is often called a Saxony wheel by collectors and by enthusiasts who still use such a device to spin fiber into thread and yarn. Once upon a time, most homes in the United States had one, because homeowners did not just run down to a nearby store to purchase their everyday clothing, bedding and floor coverings.
To be sure, commercially available thread and yarn was available in the United States after the middle of the 18th century. But if a person happened to live in the country, the tendency was to be self-reliant and make household textiles essentially from scratch.
A wide variety of antique spinning wheels are available to the collector. One familiar type is called the “great wheel” or “walking wheel,” and it typically stands about 5 feet tall and was used to spin cotton or wool fibers. It was called a walking wheel because the operator stood and moved about as necessary and operated the wheel with a hand or even a stick.